This essay is intended to be part 2 of my reflections on Japanese STS. Following my review on the criticism of Hidetoshi Kihara and of the late Hitoshi Yoshioka and Osamu Kanamori in the last issue of EASTS (Tsukahara 2018), I would like to pay particular attention to the origins of Japanese STS and the “prehistory” of the making of EASTS from a Japanese perspective. To do so, I take a historical approach, not only because I am a trained historian but also because I experienced the process of Japanese STS’s formation firsthand—the very process that Yoshioka, Kanamori, and Kihara were writing about. It is a reflection of myself, committed history in itself. I offer a brief history of STS in Japan, from its theoretical and institutional origins.
Two Origins of Japanese STS: Nakayama and Murakami in the 1990s
In my opinion, Japanese STS has two direct academic origins. One emanates from Nakayama Shigeru, the other from Yoichiro Murakami. Nakayama started his career as a historian of astronomy and then branched out into contemporary Japanese science and technology.1 As a senior mentor of Yoshioka, Nakayama organized a group of historians and sociologists and had introduced STS into Japan by the late 1980s. He was the first to use the term STS in an institutional context: just after his retirement from Tokyo University in 1989, he established the STS Research Institute at Kanagawa University. There, he worked with Keiichi Tsuneishi, a prominent contemporary historian. Tsuneishi worked on Japanese medical war crimes, especially the notorious Unit 731, as well as the histories of various toxic substances and industrial contamination that had harmed local people.2 He also worked on Minamata and other examples of problems caused by the use and misuse of industrial technology. Nakayama and Tsuneishi were the combination of what we might call the “high church” and “low church” of STS: Nakayama based his work on the history of science; Tsuneishi based his on war crimes and crimes against humanity caused by industrial hazards and on his sympathy with citizens’ movements.3 Namely, the high-church style of academism by Nakayama was combined with low-church objects written by Tsuneishi.
In the meantime, Nakayama successfully organized an editorial group for the Contemporary History of Japanese Science and Technology series (succeeded by Yoshioka, as mentioned).4 While Nakayama’s group focused on the contemporary history of technoscience, another STS movement appeared in the early 1990s, organized by Hideto Nakajima: the STS Network Japan (STSNJ), under the influential historian and philosopher of science Yoichiro Murakami of Tokyo University. Murakami was a professor of the history of science and had produced a series of capable disciples at Tokyo University, including Nakajima and Tadashi Kobayashi. Even after his retirement from Tokyo University, Hideyuki Hirakawa should be listed as one of his important protégés from the International Christian University.
Murakami was an established historian and philosopher of science, and his early works had mostly focused on an analysis of the metaphysical structure of scientific thought. He was known as the introducer and spokesperson for the West’s New Philosophy of Science, which covered theoretical works by such scholars as Norwood Hanson, Thomas Kuhn, and Michael Polanyi. Murakami was then particularly known for a series of translations of Paul Feyerabend. In the 1980s, Murakami started to deal with works more sociological than metaphysical or theoretical. In doing so, he extended his work to contemporary social problems of science, technology, and society in a Japanese context, and in his influential 1994 book What Is a Scientist? he concluded that STS is the most necessary discipline for our society. In retrospect, this was a manifesto for a new field of STS within Japanese academia. Like Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto, Murakami’s STS manifesto was a result of his analysis of contemporary sociological works on the sciences and technology and an examination of these in a Japanese context. One of his disciples, Yasushi Kakihara, who edited the 2016 commemorative volume of Murakami’s work, defined this as part of the sociological turn in his career. I would even go so far as to say that it was this “Murakami turn” that led to the institutional establishment and further growth of STS in Japan.
Rapid Growth of STS in the 2000s under Nakajima, Kobayashi, and Fujigaki
Murakami was one of the most influential public intellectuals in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s. With his institutional support as their backdrop, it was younger scholars who carried on STS research and organized the STSNJ as an association of citizens, researchers, and students. The STSNJ also attracted activists from citizen-science groups, concerned citizens, and teachers interested in STS education. Hideto Nakajima was a central figure. The STS Society of Japan grew out of this voluntary network in 2000, becoming the Japanese Society for STS (JSSTS), with Tadashi Kobayashi as its first chairperson. These proved to be capable academic organizers who raised STS into mainstream academia, expending enormous efforts into the institutionalization of STS in Japan. Nakajima was successful in laying the foundations of STS research at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, while Kobayashi is now vice-president of Osaka University, with its STS institution at the Communication Design Center, where Hirakawa now works. Yuko Fujigaki has succeeded to the post of president of the JSSTS, following Kobayashi and Nakajima, and has actively involved a group of professors and students at Tokyo University, where Murakami laid the foundation for science studies. There is hardly any need to mention that it was Fujigaki who hosted the 4S conference in Tokyo in 2010.
It is worth noting that, although the process of institutionalization from the voluntary network of the STSNJ to the academic organization of the JSSTS is often considered to have been one of moving from low church to high church, as a matter of fact it was not aimed at the heights of metaphysics or theory or at becoming a machine for producing academic papers.5 Nor was the JSSTS social movement oriented at all. The JSSTS somehow preferred a “midway” approach, by which I mean that Japanese STS has aimed at science communication and educational/enlightenment approaches. This characteristic was particularly visible in 2007, when Tadashi Kobayashi published his influential book Age of Trans-science: How to Connect Science and Society. As his title shows, STS was concerned with the ties between science and the public, a theoretical base given by Alvin Weinberg. Kobayashi’s academic strategy corresponded to his academic position. Aiming neither at high-church intellectual analysis nor the low-church style of the activist and whistle-blower, Japanese STS has tried to find its position as an intermediary between science and society, bridging the gap between the scientist-expert and the public, a go-between, an umpire refraining from judgment, building a safe, interlocutory forum for discussion among conflicting parties. It can also be seen as an attempt to create a public sphere for deliberative democracy:6 Kobayashi and other Japanese STSers have expended great efforts and conducted a number of consensus conferences and focus groups. The self-claimed pacificator, the arbitrator bridging the gap between science, technology, and society—this was the dominant style of STSers in Japan at that time. This was a difficult task, but Kobayashi was a genius who successfully created a position for himself as a facilitator for problem solving at the interface of science and society; hence, his ideas and practices resulted in establishing a Japanese STS research program that reflected STSers as middlemen.
This middle approach has been endorsed by the European movement of citizen science. One example is the science café—an attempt to create a discussion forum for scientists and citizens, with the Danish method being particularly favored within Japanese STS. One thing about the science café that most attracted Japanese STSers was its way of choosing topics: cafés never deal with conflicting issues but try to take “pure” topics of science that are socially unrelated and not committed. Trying to stand apart from real societal issues, talk of science at a science café makes it easy to communicate scientific problems in an open, egalitarian space for enhancing the public understanding of science. It was successfully introduced in Japan with a great deal of official funding, as an instrument of science education, for some cases even with industry and multinational companies sponsoring science cafés coordinated by STSers. One typically strange case, to my thinking, and completely at odds with citizen science, is that of a big pharma company holding a science café in Japan as a way of increasing public acceptance of biotechnology and advanced medicine. It is one thing to have such a scientific and cultural conversation within a northern European sociocultural context, but we must recognize that this is very different than what is done under a particular circumstance in a Japanese hypercapitalist/technocratic economy.7 Avoiding serious social questions is but a limited experiment in a particularly rich society with a strong tradition of democracy and awareness of human rights, always watchful of the behavior of power and capital.
It was suddenly revealed that the approach of science cafés to avoid controversial issues is the very thing that Japan cannot afford in the wake of the 2011 disasters. So I now suspect that this “mediator” position is one of the reasons for the vulnerability of Japanese STS (Tsukahara 2018). Especially at a time of crisis, such positioning proves not only totally ineffective but also untrustworthy. We take it for granted that the middle way was the reason for the successful, rapid growth of Japanese STS before 2010, and it was surely quite useful. But as we have repeatedly seen Kanamori, Yoshioka, and Kihara’s comments, we are certainly crossing another boundary and need to realize that the utility of such a “middle-church” approach has expired. We are facing a deadlock in the Japanese-style STS, despite its success so far.
The Other Side of the 2000s: The “Prehistory” of EASTS and the East Asian Network Approach
In the meantime, beside the prevailing middle-church STS activities, I was involved together with Hideto Nakajima in activities to take East Asian STSers and create a network. Both historians of science (a core discipline of science studies in Japan for later STS institutionalization), we based our task at first on the existing network of such scholars in East Asia. In 2000, Nakajima visited Beijing and agreed with the most senior STSers in China (Zen Guoping), Korea (Song Sangyong), and Japan (Nakajima) to hold East Asian STS networking meetings and to find more opportunities to interact with East Asian colleagues. Consequently, in 2001 another meeting was held in Seoul, and in 2002 I hosted a meeting in Kobe.
The memorable thing about Kobe meeting was that I invited Taiwanese colleagues Fu Daiwie and Lei Sean Hianglin. Nakajima and I “discovered” Lei at the conference of the European Association for STS in Bieleveld, Germany, a year before, and this was the first time we had met with Taiwanese STSers. We quickly learned that the Taiwanese STS community was led by the influential Fu Daiwie and that it is the most active and resource rich, in human and academic terms, in all of East Asia. In the East Asian history of science field, I was already acquainted with my old friend Chu Pingyi, and it turned out that he was also one of Fu’s protégés. Wu Chia-Ling and Kuo Wen Hua followed on the same path, as all we know, with Chen Dong-shang as the most formidable institutional guardian. It was sheer enjoyment—like meeting long-lost friends working on the same topics in different but similar cultural settings. It was like finding distant cousins struggling to recover the past glories of a lost dynasty in a righteous kingdom and fighting against the authoritarian tyrants of technocracy!
Meetings followed in 2003 in Taipei, 2004 in Seoul, 2005 in Shenyang, and 2006 in Kobe again. To my mind, this series of networking meetings are the prehistory culminated in the inauguration of our East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal in 2007. Our journal, now gaining status of internationally recognized journal, was grown out of such a fertile East Asian STS networking ground. For his part, Nakajima sees the authentic spirit of the 2000 agreement as still surviving and believes it should continue, and he and others are trying to renew that agreement and its associated networking activities. I agree that such networking should carry on, expanding the opportunities for different East Asian colleagues who have less access to our journal. One might say that the EASTS network approach and the EASTS journal approach have now become parallel tracks.
As I set out in the introduction to the feature issue in the second volume of EASTS (Tsukahara 2007), the democratization in 1987 of Taiwan and Korea can be thought of as the driving force behind STS in East Asia. We should not overlook the cultural and academic reform going on around 1987 and after, which formed an important backdrop to our East Asian STS networking. From the late 1980s into the 1990s, East Asian STS felt like a voyage of discovery. We discovered similar species to ourselves but in different cultural settings. We congratulated one another on our survival, and were surprised at our likenesses and differences. One example was Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolution, translated by Nakayama Shigeru into Japanese in 1971 and into Chinese by Taiwanese scholars, including Fu Daiwie, in 1989. We were delighted to discover that we had read the same book, comparing our translations, having something to share, thinking the same kind of ideas albeit in different languages and sociopolitical contexts. We were also delighted to discover that a Korean colleague, Sungook Hong, had read about Minamata disease and that Korean STSers had been encouraged by how Japanese activists had worked on it.
I felt that we had all been living in the same age, in a shared space and with similar ideas, yet had been divided by dictatorship, US intervention, and the Cold War. Ironically, to my surprise, we learned that most of our STS colleagues in Korea and Taiwan have American PhDs. I suspect that they can be considered a product of the Cold War, that American PhDs from Taiwan and Korea were living in much harder situations in their homes, and they have gone through severe academic restrictions such as limited freedom of speech. Those limitations were rather unlikely in Japan, where at least we have enjoyed freedom of speech in domestic academia. Reflecting the colonial and hegemonic structure of cultural politics during the Cold War, though, we have acquired a tool of resistance: the English language. We are now able to communicate with one another, however broken our English might be.
Yet we have the impression that 1989 was the worst year for East Asia, in particular because of the Tiananmen Square incident, which still casts a shadow. Whenever we remember 4 June, we cannot help but think of the enhanced level of surveillance now enabled by technoscientific advances. For us STSers, such story of dystopia is not only like a horror story but also a story of struggle in reality.8 The worse we see is the real ongoing situation, the authoritarian misuse of science and technology appears to be almost beyond control, even to the authoritarians themselves. We see the situation is rapidly changing, as is technoscience, and environmental problems, surveillance and society, and the relationship between science and citizenship, to name a few. We have so many problems to deal with within our STS framework that we are now even entering into Anthropocene. How shall we conceive of the scientist and public? Is STS still an effective tool for us to think about and resort to solutions for the present difficulties in East Asia? I need a bit more time to ponder the changing relationship between technoscience and society and the testaments left by Yoshioka and Kanamori. So let me stop here for now.
I penned a critical biographical essay by way of an obituary for Nakayama (Tsukahara 2014), and a series of memorial sessions were held at the fourteenth ICHSEA in Paris in 2015.
The terms high church and low church originate in the Church of England, with “high” the province of the higher social classes and “low” serving the lower classes. Steve Fuller took these as a metaphor: STS’s high church is academic and theory-oriented; its low church consists of activists and of people concerned with social movements.
The Contemporary History of Japanese Science and Technology series was first published by Gakuyo Press and then Hara Publishing.
A problem for the JSSTS is its low productivity: with only one journal a year, it is not prominent among particular theoretical contributions.
Therefore, Kobayashi and his group played an important role during the short-lived Democratic Party administration. For political implications of STS and the Democratic Party administration, and its collapse after 3/11 following the resurgence of a technocracy regime by Liberal Democrats, see Tsukahara 2017.
Tsukahara 2008 points out the incongruity of the introduction of this northern European form of science communication to Japan.